Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox review

And the reviews just don't stop this weekend! Regardless, finally, quite possibly my most anticipated film of this season arrived in theaters this weekend (well, most theaters; it opened hear in New York and in Los Angeles, but won't open elsewhere until Thanksgiving), Fantastic Mr. Fox, the latest film from one of my personal favorite directors, Wes Anderson.

But what sets this film apart from Anderson's five previous films? Well, for one, it's his first stop-motion animated film, and it's his first adaptation, being based off the Roald Dahl book of the same name (which I finally got around to reading a few weeks ago, just for the purpose of analyzing the film...). Another thing different about the film, is that it's Anderson's film with a PG rating, and considering all of his prior films were rated R, that's kind of something worth taking note of, but I'll explain later.

The film, like the book, follows Mr. Fox (George Clooney), a sneaky fox who likes to steal from farmers. What's different here though, is that Anderson has personified Mr. Fox, giving him a personality and motivation, which isn't as clear in the book. Here, having given up stealing, he's a husband to Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), father to Ash (Jason Schwartzman, and created for the film), and uncle to Kris (Eric Anderson, also created for the film), and is employed as a newspaper writer and wants a better life for his family. But when Mr. Fox finds a new home, across from three dastardly farmers: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, his old stealing habits kick in, and it may cost him his home, and the respect of his family and friends.

For the most part, the film sticks to the story of the book, albeit a bit indirectly. I'm not going to spoil anything for those that haven't read the book, but those that have read it will probably see how the events of the book are re-imagined with Wes Anderson's unique vision, making the story all his own. In short, it's the story of the book, but just tweaked. I didn't think it detracted from the enjoyment of the film, and if you haven't read the book this won't even be a factor for you, but it just seemed worth noting.

The biggest difference between Fantastic Mr. Fox and Anderson's previous work is obviously the change from live-action to stop-motion animation. I can't speak for everyone, but I know that before I saw the film, I questioned if Wes Anderson's signature filming style could be translated into a stop-motion film starring animal puppets. I can now say, after watching the film, that yes, there's no denying that this is indeed an Anderson film; from the flat shots and use of symmetry, there's no denying whose film your watching when you see this. And it's not even a limitation on the animation, which looks great (especially on the human characters) and flows well. It's unlike any stop-motion film I've seen before.

Even in the writing, the way characters talk and act is just that signature look, and while you may not actually see Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson, you will hear them, and think that also helped in retaining the feeling of his films. But, the non-Anderson regulars perform just as well. George Clooney and Meryl Streep have a really nice voice chemistry together, and they just seem so fitting for their characters; it's the type of film you can watch without thinking "oh hey, that's whatshisname!" throughout the whole thing because they just sound so natural. I really enjoyed Willem Dafoe as the oddly-Creol Rat, Michael Gambon as Bean, and Jarvis Cocker (who many may know as the former lead singer of Britpop band, Pulp) who has a small singer role as Petey, who looks like a caricature of himself. And to further the natural sounding voices, it's interesting to know that none of the voice work was actually recorded in a studio, instead Anderson opted to record in outside locations and such, and it really makes everything sound more believable despite seeing animal puppets on-screen.

Now that I've covered Anderson's hurdles of adapting, and moving to stop-motion, it's time to look at the most peculiar hurdle of them all, the PG rating. I'm always amazed when directors like Robert Rodriguez and Stephen Spielberg can go between gruesome rated R films and family friendly PG films so frequently without having any sort of hiccups, so it's interesting to see how Anderson went from five rated R films, to his first PG film, other than the fact that he adapted a children's book, in an animated format. There's a lot of peculiar dialog that you wouldn't expect from a film of this nature, like speaking of death, existentialism, alcoholism, and even the inclusion of characters that smoke (which is actually pretty much unseen in most children's media nowadays). Or for instance the word 'cuss' is used a lot in terms that would otherwise be wildly explicit, such as 'cluster-cuss,' 'are you cussing with me,' and 'what the cuss?' I'm sure you can get the gist of what they're trying to say there, and while I don't care, I'm sure many parents may not like the inclusion in what's targeted as a film for children.

The way I see it, Anderson made this film just like he would any other, but obviously changed the dialog and gave the film some wackiness thanks to the medium, so that it could be accessible to more people than just his usual fans. I think the way a lot of these more mature references are presented is so that adult viewers will get it, and the rest will just fly over kids' heads. When I saw the film, it was a primarily adult crowd, so I can't exactly say how kids will react, but everyone else seemed to be having a great time; I know I was having one.

Overall, I'd have to say, pardon me, but this film was FANTASTIC. It's an interesting case of a director known for sticking to the same style finally coming out of his comfort zone and creating something that feels familiar and yet is unlike anything done before. Fantastic Mr. Fox is certainly a new benchmark for Wes Anderson, having had mixed reviews on his last few films (though I liked them), and is certainly his most accessible film to date. When this releases nationwide next week, do yourself a favor and see this film, fan of Wes Anderson or not.

Overall Score: 9.6/10

Okay, don't give me that look, it may seem a bit biased, being that Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors, but this is also my site. I will say, despite really liking all of Anderson's films, this film may actually be my new favorite of his. I'm not sure if it's the animation, or the cast, or the great soundtrack, but something about this film is just far more striking than anything else that Anderson has done before. What I really admire is just how well the movie was made despite being his first stop-motion feature (Life Aquatic had some stop-motion, but those segments were done by Henry Selick), while still retaining his signature film style. And despite being an adaptation, Anderson found a way to make it feel like it was all his own, while still being reasonably faithful to Roald Dahl's original book. Fantastic!

No comments: